Don ca tai tu, a traditional improvisational chamber music was emerged in the south at the end of the 19th century. Coming to life no more than two centuries ago and becoming much loved by southerners of Vietnam, “Don ca tai tu” is deeply rooted in the culture and spirits of locals and considered a traditional music of the nation.
In the past, Don ca tai tu was performed to entertain high-ranking officials when they held parties. As time passed, Tai tu performers began to participate in exchanges instead of just having fun at parties. Tai tu performers can perform in a group or solo. In the past, performers is usually sat and performed solo but nowadays, they usually form a band and stand up for performances, which have evolved into Cai luong or reformed theatre”.
A traditional Tai tu orchestra includes a Vietnamese two-string guitar, a Vietnamese 16-string zither, a Chinese four-string lute, a Vietnamese two-string fiddle, a monochord and a flute. Since the middle of the 20th century, guitar and violin – two Western musical instruments – have been added to the orchestra. In order to make these new musical instruments compatible with the others, the guitars frets have been made deeper, and both instruments have been retuned.
All Tai tu musicians have to learn by heart the basic tunes of their repertoire from which they can improvise, while still maintaining the music’s integrity. This kind of music is performed not only at parties, but also in the post-harvest time. It is played in the shade of trees or on boats, on a bright moonlit night. This southern amateur music cannot be found on modern stages or in cultural or tourism festivals. This genre of chamber music is usually performed on ‘plank beds’ in living rooms in southern traditional houses.
In 2013, “Don ca tai tu in the Southern Vietnam” was officially recognized by the UNESCO in list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity.